By Eric Jankiewicz
Thousands of Rockaway commuters were stranded because of a copper cable theft that left the A-train line completely down, according to the MTA. Service was restored temporarily around noon.
“This morning was absolutely packed. Traffic galore,” said Philip McManus, a Rockaway resident and an advocate for more commuting options from the Rockaways. “It became a nightmare. Traffic came to a standstill and no one was able to get out.”
On Tuesday night a northbound A-train with about 150 people lost power around the Howard Beach station. And when train officials checked to see what the problem was, they found copper cable had been stolen from 12 sites along the A-train tracks around Howard Beach, the MTA said. The cable is used to provide power to the tracks and trains and is popular as scrap metal. Without it, trains were unable to move, moored train cars stored in the Rockaway Park yard and trapped thousands of commuters who depend on the A and the C, which terminates at Euclid Avenue along with some A trains.
The MTÅ said the copper theft shut down service along the entire length of the A and C lines.
Officials are calling on the MTA to investigate how this security breach could have happened. And state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Howard Beach) is criticizing the MTA’s response to the emergency. According to Goldfeder, the nightmarish commute for Rockaway residents was the result of “catastrophic breakdowns in contingency transit plans, including reports of buses blocking vital roadways and leaving thousands stranded during their rush hour commute.”
Goldfeder continued, “Families in southern Queens and Rockaway have some of the longest commute times in the entire city. On a normal day, our roads, trains and buses are stretched to capacity. Outages like this have devastating consequences for families simply trying to commute to work or school. I am alarmed by reported security breaches along the A train and the failure to put in place effective alternative travel plans for our families. I demand a full investigation by the MTA to ensure that this never happens again.”
Goldfeder called on the agency to conduct an immediate investigation to see if the security breach poses a threat to Howard Beach residents and commuters.
The A and C lines service about 775,000 people, according to the MTA, including about 100,000 who commute during morning rush hour. Unlike many other areas along the two train lines, Rockaway residents did not have an alternative subway, leading many to turn to cars.
Shuttle buses were also provided but with only two bridges connecting the Rockaways to the rest of Queens, traffic was packed with commuters scrambling to get to work and school, according to witnesses. The shuttle service was limited, according to Goldfeder, and it was implemented between 88th Street and Broad Channel, as well as northbound shuttle bus service between Broad Channel and Rockaway Boulevard in Queens. The MTA also directed commuters to existing bus service along Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards, according to Goldefeder. The assemblyman also cited reports that commuters faced over 30 minute delays on the heavily-utilized Q53 bus between Woodside and Rockaway Park. Limited shuttle buses also reportedly blocked lanes of traffic at bus stations, according to Goldefeder, extending travel times for motorists and causing bumper-to-bumper gridlock in the borough. In his letter to MTA President Thomas Prendergast, Goldfeder urged the agency to improve its contingency plans for the future.
“This morning’s service disruption was directly caused by the theft of cable from along the subway right of way. This led to delays and crowding along all 31 miles of the A Subway Line Icon train, and forced thousands of Rockaways customers to use shuttle buses to get to work,” said MTA New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco. “We are working closely with the NYPD Transit Bureau to help them investigate this crime and identify the culprits responsible.”
Service was fully restored by noon but service will be down again Wednesday night so that MTA workers can permanently fix the power lines. According to an MTA spokesman, service by Thursday morning should be back to normal.
“I’m hoping that this experience will make people wake up and fight for more transit options,” McManus said. “The ferry would’ve been a great alternative. Just like Manhattan. They’ve got all of these options over there. But Rockaway doesn’t. Queens, overall, must have more options. We need more transit, that’s what we need.”
Reach reporter Eric Jankiewicz by e-mail at ejank